Fans soak up the atmosphere as Dakar Rally comes to Saudi Arabia for first time

Fans soak up the atmosphere as Dakar Rally comes to Saudi Arabia for first time
Fans soak up the atmosphere as Dakar Rally comes to Saudi Arabia for first time

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: Saudi driver Turki Al-Sudairy has switched effortlessly from cars to trucks in a rally career going back almost two decades — and Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, which starts on Sunday, will be no different.

The Dakar veteran will drive a MAN TGS truck for the 42nd edition of the world’s most demanding motorsport event, which will run from Jan. 5-17. 

Al-Sudairy explained his switch from the Mitsubishi Evo, the car he drove with Algerian co-driver Sameer bin Bekhti in 2008 when he was the only Saudi to compete in the rally. 

“The topography and unique terrain of the Saudi desert is more suited to a truck, which has more power than a car,” he told Arab News in a phone interview.

The 39-year-old driver also wanted to strengthen the few Saudi entries in the truck division, where he will be joined by countrymen Ibrahim Al-Muhanna and Tariq Alrammah.

The Dakar Rally is one of the world’s toughest motor sports events, but Al-Sudairy is confident of making it all the way to the Qiddiya finish line. A podium finish would be a bonus, but he likes his chances.

“The challenge is to get your car or truck to the finish line with the least amount of damage and the best results,” he said.

“We’ve done a lot to prepare for this rally — working out regularly, keeping in shape, and preparing the vehicles with mechanical run throughs, readying the team.

“My experience in the 2020 race will be different from my previous Dakar rallies because it is in my home country. The race here will resemble the ones in Africa in terms of terrain.

“I competed in Africa and Latin America in 2013. The Kingdom’s environment resembles the original Dakar Rally. The vast Saudi desert is similar to those in Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and Mali, for example,” he said.

The topography and unique terrain of the Saudi desert is more suited to a truck, which has more power than a car.

Turki Al-Sudairy, Saudi veteran rally driver

“This will be my fifth time in the rally. I raced in Africa in 2005, 2007 and 2008, the same route. But after it was canceled because of terrorist threats, I stopped until 2013 for the Latin American version (through Peru, Argentina and Chile),” Al-Sudairy said of his Dakar experience. 

Al-Sudairy is a passionate rally driver, but refuses to be labeled a professional.

“I love adventure. I’m treating this Dakar Rally as an adventure as well as a race. I’m not a professional, but I will try to get a high score,” he said. 

Al-Sudairy said that the biggest challenge facing drivers in the Kingdom will be the fine desert sand.

“The sand is different in each region,” he said. “Sand in the western region is different from the one in Hail or the Empty Quarter, which I think will be most difficult because it’s fine sand.

“I drive a big truck, so negotiating the narrow passages in mountain areas will be a challenge. It requires skill and caution; any mistake could cause a problem.” 

Al-Sudairy said that the Saudi event will be especially exciting for foreign drivers and those who previously raced in Africa, a group that makes up almost half the Dakar field.

“For them, the race will be like a walk down memory lane,” he said.

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